|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2009-05-10 23:32:00
In The Mouth Of The Wolf: Part 2
(This was the seventh part of "End Game", and then had the Author's Note: "Part 7 (and Part 8, to follow) are neither of them from Kimble's point of view. I am sure you would notice and not be confused, but as we're all friends here, I just thought I'd mention it. I'm still frankly not sure if I can squeeze the rest of the plot into part 9, part 10, or if I need part 11, and how the hell this works out for the structure of the story, but, that's what makes this an adventure, right? ...right?" - Well, I have now found out what it did to the structure of the story.)
The previous stories in this series (my Keptverse) began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part), The Players (seven parts), The Gambler (seven parts), The Pieces (seven parts), and End-Game (5 parts).
The story may be regarded as fanfic set in poisontaster's Keptverse. There is a species of cast list here.
All the while alone in that dark room, it had not been real to Beatrice that she was going to die. At some point the process of questioning was going to end, and there would be nothing more. The dark room was real, and the concrete and metal of the walls and floor. The men who asked her questions did not seem altogether real, as if she dreamed them. They never touched her. Once one of them gave her a cereal bar, and it tasted sweet when she ate it, but that too could have been a dream. What had been real to her was that Tam was going to die, her face smashed to pulp by blows, her skin torn and flesh bruised and ripped. She had seen people beaten so badly that they died, and they said – everyone said – that what Commerce did to you was worse. They were going to do that to Tam. They had slept together one night, just one, and though her hands and mouth and nose and all her body remembered Tam in ways she had never imagined she could feel, what she remembered could already be gone: Tam might already be dead.
Upstairs they seemed to carry the smell of the cells with them. Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie looked sick, and smelled worse. Tam trudged up the stairs behind them, carrying the gun, her eyes down. She wouldn't meet Beatrice's eyes.
Upstairs: a carpeted hallway, open doors to deserted bedrooms. “Where the hell are we?” Miss Emma said. She sounded as if she would be angry if she weren't so tired.
Miss Stephanie pushed the nearest door open and went in: Miss Emma followed.
For the first time, Tam looked at Beatrice. Her eyes opened wide as if she were drinking Beatrice with a look. She said, so quietly Beatrice could hardly hear her, “Did they hurt you?”
Beatrice shook her head. “I kept thinking – ”
Tam nodded, a quick me too, and pointed through the door, interrupting with a gesture. Just then Miss Emma called, not loudly but urgently, “Tam! Bo!”
Miss Stephanie was throwing up in the bathroom. Miss Emma came out of the bathroom and said, almost as if they were home, “Oh, there you are. Bo, can you find us some clean clothes? For yourself and Tam, too. We all need to wash. Tam, come through and help Steffy, she drank too much water too fast. I'll call my dad, he'll come get us.” She said the last tightly, but with certainty. Miss Emma did not get on with her father, every household slave knew it. “I can't figure out where we are, so if you see anything, let me know.”
Beatrice said “Yes, Miss Emma,” hearing Tam echo it.
There were three bedrooms on this floor, and a locked door that might be a holding cell or slave quarters. There were two other bathrooms, and Beatrice drank water in the first she found. She hoped Tam got to drink, too.
There were clothes in the dressers of two of the rooms, a mixed bag: the kind of thing that would be left behind by departing guests. The third bedroom looked more lived-in, and had a lot more clothing, but all sized to fit a man taller and broader than any of them were. Beatrice went back to the bedroom with what she had found.
Miss Stephanie had finished throwing up. She still looked shaky, but she sounded more like herself. Miss Emma hadn't been able to find a phone, or anything with an address on it. “I didn't want to go downstairs on my own,” she said.
“I don't blame you,” Miss Stephanie said. “This place is weird. What did you find, Bo?”
Tam and Beatrice got to shower together: Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie were both arguing over the pile of clothes Beatrice had found, and paid no attention to what they were doing. Under the noise of the water, Beatrice said “Do you know where we are?”
Tam shook her head. “Did you see either of those two men who let us out before?”
“No,” Beatrice whispered. “Are we still runaways?” If they weren't – if they had been let out because someone had decided –
“I wanted to run away,” Tam said. “I think I told them that. I don't remember.” She had been washing Beatrice's back, and her hands slid up to Beatrice's shoulders. “I still want to,” she said.
Beatrice turned around and put her arms around Tam, leaning against her. “I thought they were going to kill you,” she whispered. She didn't have words for how much she wanted Tam to stay alive. Even if they couldn't touch, couldn't talk to each other – even if they couldn't see each other –
Tam nodded. She moved her head and kissed Beatrice on the mouth. “I don't want them to hurt you,” she said. “But I can't – ” She was trembling. “We can't,” she said, and stepped out of the shower.
Miss Emma decided about the clothes: Beatrice had known she would. They all wore baggy t-shirts, which covered them almost like dresses, and Miss Emma distributed the other clothes. They were all more or less dressed, and Bo dumped the dirty clothes in the shower. “Let's go downstairs,” Miss Emma said, when they were dressed. “That man said there'd be food. And there must be a phone.”
There was a large room downstairs, a sitting-room or library, looking like people had left it in a hurry. Further down the hall the other door led to a kitchen. There was no one there. There was no sign there ever had been cook or kitchen maid there – no slave quarters at all.
“I can't see a phone,” Miss Emma said.
“I don't care,” Miss Stephanie retorted. “Let's eat! Bo, you can cook, can't you?”
“We should get out of here. Bo, Tam, find us something we can eat now. No cooking.” Miss Emma sounded crisp and definite.
Tam was still holding the gun. She had put it down only for a few minutes on the bathroom counter, when they showered. She stood looking at Miss Emma for a silent moment.
Beatrice didn't want to think about what she saw in her mind's eye in that moment. She knew what Tam wanted to do. It would be the end of everything. “Oh,” she said, out loud, and moved across the room, between Miss Emma and Tam, “bread. I can make sandwiches.” She was standing between Miss Emma and Tam, and turned, trying to look casual. It was improper for one slave to give another slave instructions in front of their owner, but Miss Emma had always been relaxed about propriety when her parents weren't around. “Tam, could you look in the fridge?” she said out loud, staring right into Tam's eyes.
She saw Tam blink, and the focus change: not on Miss Emma but on Beatrice. Tam nodded. Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie were talking again: where were they? How hungry they were! How long had they been in the cells? Why had they been let out? As if nothing had happened. They hadn't seen anything, or were pretending they hadn't, who knew? Tam was looking through the fridge, taking food out with one hand: the gun still weighted down her other hand.
The sound of a door opening in the hall froze Beatrice's blood. She turned: she saw Tam lifting the gun in both her hands. There were footsteps, more than one person, coming down the hall. Tam said, quietly, “Hide,” and moved to face the door. Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie were kneeling behind the table: Beatrice crouched down in the corner behind the fridge.
One man came in ahead of the other: they were the men who had let them out of the cells, Beatrice saw in a burst of relief. The man ahead stopped as if he'd been hit when he saw Tam: the other stepped from behind him and lifted his hands, which looked very strange: they were green and puffy, malformed lumps. Neither of them were collared.
After a moment – Tam was still pointing the gun at them – the first man glanced sideways at the other, and Beatrice saw him swallow, and lift his hands. Though he wasn't wearing a collar, he was the other man's slave. He was marked on his neck where a collar might have been.
“I'm Samuel Gerard.” He sounded rough and tired. “This is Richard Kimble. We're not going to harm you. Put the gun down, Tam.”
Tam did not move. The man smiled, briefly, a twist of his mouth without showing his teeth. It looked ugly, but his voice was still even. He didn't sound like a free person talking to a slave. “Okay. I am a former deputy US Marshall, I am the man responsible for your being held prisoner here, and I know exactly what you went through before I let you out. I know you need a meal, a rest, and directions to get out of here. You can shoot me, but it won't do you any particular kind of good. Don't let go of that gun. You're going to need one that won't break your hands if you fire it, but you should have one. Just stop pointing that one at me.”
Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie were getting to their feet as the man was speaking. He must have seen them, but he didn't acknowledge them: he was looking at Tam, focussed on her – on the gun she was holding. He sounded like one slave talking to another.
Beatrice stood up. This time, the man's eyes did flicker towards her: and his slave's head turned, quickly, as if he thought Beatrice might be dangerous. Neither of them moved.
“Good,” the man said, after a moment. “All four of you. Okay, sit down; Richard can make you something to eat.”
“Deputy Gerard?” Miss Emma sounded as if she were imitating her mother, trying for a cut-ice social tone. “I'm sorry, but I need to call my father, Kevin Channing.”
“Richard can find you a phone after you eat. He's good at that. Sit down.” He glanced at his slave, and added, like tugging a leash: “Richard.”
After a moment, the slave turned back to look at his owner: the look was not respectful. He pulled a chair out from the table for his owner: the man sat down, with a look up at his slave that Bo could not interpret. He looked almost amused.
Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie sat down across the table from Deputy Gerard. Tam's hands had dropped: she stood uncertainly by the table. The man glanced across at her, at Beatrice: “Sit down,” he said.
The slave – a tall man in his fifties, thin and grim – had moved to the fridge: he looked down at Beatrice. His eyes flicked in the direction of the table, and his mouth opened, silently voicing a “Yes” without a nod: the familiar slave-to-slave communication was comforting even here.
It felt very strange to be sitting at a table with Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie sitting next to her and Tam sitting on the other side. Beatrice's stomach roiled: there was bread and cheese and cold cuts and butter on the table, and though they hadn't been starved in the cells, she was hungry.
The slave put down plates and knives on the table, and – almost at the same moment as Miss Emma reached for the loaf of bread – Deputy Gerard said “Don't eat too fast, you'll throw up if you do. I need to talk to you.”
“Sam,” the slave said, and Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie turned their heads, at once, both surprised. “They're hungry. Don't talk to them yet.”
Deputy Gerard tilted his head back and nearly laughed – a rough, unamused heh of breath intaken. “Okay,” he said.
It was hard to eat slowly. Richard scrambled eggs for them, and fried bacon, and there seemed no end to the food and no need to ask for permission to eat more: Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie weren't paying attention to either herself or Tam.
“Where are we?” Miss Emma asked at last.
“I was a deputy US marshal for Northern Illinois,” Gerard said, not answering her question. “My team dealt with runaways, and the people who help them. We were also working to overthrow the government and free all the slaves.” He glanced along the table at all four of them: they had all stopped eating. “There was a slave uprising today, a few hours ago.” He glanced up at the clock, and went on, monotone, as if he was not saying anything very momentous. “I can tell you to the minute when Commerce took it seriously enough that they activated all the convict collars, but that's not really important. Emma, your family lives in a walled estate, Stephanie, yours lives in a gated community. Either one could be under attack, and if so, the lives of the slaves inside won't be worth much by now. Bo, Tam, can either of you drive a car?”
Bo was cold inside. She nodded, briefly, unsure why she was being asked. Tam glanced at her, and nodded, too.
“But we don't live anywhere near each other!” Miss Emma protested.
“Where exactly is this happening?” Miss Stephanie asked.
“Everywhere, by now,” Gerard said.
“Everywhere in Illinois?”
“Everywhere in the USNA,” Gerard said. “There's a company called Devlin MacGregor, they own about two million slaves. They were the starting point, and they're spread across a dozen states. But they're just the beginning. The plan is for a general slave uprising, supported by the friendship networks, the US Marshals, the Secret Service, and as many of the military units as we've infiltrated, with support from the European Federation. Within a week, the government of the USNA won't exist any more, and all the surviving slaves will be free. A lot of people are going to get killed. I'd just as soon you four weren't among them. I went to a lot of trouble to keep you alive.”
Miss Emma dropped the piece of bread she was holding: the expression on her face, half confusion, half anger, made Beatrice want to dive for the floor. She glanced sideways at the gun on Tam's lap, and stayed where she was.
Miss Stephanie said, sounding more confused and less angry, “But my father says we can't free all the slaves. He says our manufacturing base depends on slavery, even if we could free all the slaves it would cause a world-wide recession.”
“Yeah, it might,” Gerard said. He nodded. “I know your dad's in trouble with Commerce because he wants to have term-limit slavery for debt and the right to give slaves their freedom after they've served twenty years.”
Miss Stephanie was nodding, but she glanced down the table at Beatrice and Tam. “We shouldn't be saying this in front of them,” she told Gerard. “It's not fair on them.”
Miss Emma said, abruptly and angrily, “You can't just free all the slaves!”
Gerard shook his head. “Not me personally all by myself, no,” he said. “But all the slaves in this country are going to be freed, and the goal is it's going to happen by this time next week. What I want you to consider is where you're going to go for that week. You can't stay here: I shut down all the defenses so you could get out alive if Richard killed me. You can have my car and whatever guns you can use, and anything else you want to take from this house.” He was looking at Beatrice. “Questions?” He glanced down at the table, and pushed two sets of keys over to her – unmistakably to her, not to Miss Emma.
Car keys. And a collar key.
Miss Emma reached out for the keys. Beatrice's hands fell on them before Miss Emma could touch them. She picked them up and cradled them with both her hands. Miss Emma was looking at her with the strangest expression.
“Yes, Miss Emma,” Beatrice said automatically. The slave – Richard – was standing rock still, staring at Gerard. He looked as if something had broken up his world: Beatrice understood that. She had belonged to Miss Emma since they were both five years old.
“Do you believe him?”
“I don't know,” Beatrice said. She didn't know what answer Miss Emma wanted. But the keys were cold metal in her hand, hard and real, warming themselves against her flesh.
“What kind of shit is this?” Richard said. He leaned forward, his voice loud, looking – sounding – more angry than Beatrice had ever imagined a slave could look. “Overthrow the government, hell – you won't be able to get rid of Commerce. Whoever's in charge next week, they'll still own slaves.”
Gerard lifted his head and looked back at Richard. “The department of Commerce is the USNA government,” he said. “When I said we were going to overthrow the government and free all the slaves, I meant the real government. That's Commerce. They run the country. We aim to change that. The election in November next year, every former slave over eighteen will be registered to vote, and all the states which have been returning a Labor majority to Congress for the past eighty years are going to see their politics turning inside out and upside down. We've been planning this revolution for longer than these kids have been alive.”
“But – ” Miss Emma and Miss Stephanie spoke together, but Miss Stephanie was louder, and when Gerard looked away from Richard he looked at her. While everyone's attention was somewhere else, Beatrice pocketed the keys, and glanced at Tam, who was watching her. If they could get out of here without being stopped –
“There are more slaves in this country than free people,” Gerard said. “Slaves don't vote, but they get counted in the census. How many seats in Congress a state gets, how much funding a state gets – Commerce makes those decisions now. They've been making those decisions for decades.” He was talking as flatly as a slave who's just been told he's going to be sold. “This is the end.”
“But this kind of change – My parents say slavery's bad, but we've got to change this gradually, we've got to make things better as we go along – ”
Gerard leaned back in his chair. “I expect your parents support raising the age of consent to fourteen, and making education mandatory for slave children, and banning Final contracts except as a legal penalty for murder – ” these were all things Bo had heard the adult slaves talking about, when they knew there were no free people to hear. “All of those are good things, girl, but I wanted the whole house down.”
“Why?” Miss Emma's voice was shaking. Her face was white. Beatrice wanted to be on her knees, her head down, not looking at Miss Emma: this was the way Miss Emma had talked to her father the few times she'd fought with him openly. “People are going to get killed! My dad – my mom – you don't understand – ”
“People were going to get killed anyway,” Gerard said. “Least this way they're dying for something worth dying for.”
Miss Stephanie put an arm round Miss Emma's shoulder. “How can you?”
Gerard's shoulders lifted in a slow shrug. He said tonelessly, “Because slavery is an abomination.” The word fell into silence: Beatrice felt Tam sit upright as if the same nerves moved her. “Buying, selling, owning human beings – it's not something you can make better, it's not just bad, it's – ” his shoulders lifted in another slow shrug “ – abominable. Slavery should not exist. And as of this week, it's not going to exist in this country any longer.”
Miss Emma stood up, brushing Miss Stephanie's arm away. She was standing next to Richard, but she hardly seemed to notice that: Richard stepped back to get out of her way, and with a crawling feeling in her gut, Beatrice saw Miss Emma was coming for them. Her hands went out, shaped to grasp, but nothing landed.
“You don't understand,” she said, and she was still speaking to Gerard. “My parents own twenty-three people and they all hate them. My parents. Most of them don't hate me because I'm just a kid, but my mom bought me Bo when I was five and Bo hates me, and my dad bought me Tam when I was fourteen and Tam hates me, and my mom and dad's slaves hate them worse, if they weren't afraid of Commerce they'd kill my parents, they'd kill them, they will kill them – Tam wanted to kill me, I saw her, and my mom and dad – they're probably already dead – Please let me call my dad!”
Beatrice stood up. Miss Emma's hands were over her face: Beatrice knew the master and mistress would pull her hands away when she got like this and they wanted to talk to her. She hadn't pulled one of these fits in years. Beatrice hadn't had to be in the room when they happened, at least. She put her right hand into the pocket of the shorts she was wearing, and felt the shifting metal lumps of the keys. She hadn't been sure what she wanted to do when she stood up. She'd just reacted as if it was still her job to do something. It wasn't.
“Tam and I are getting out of here,” she said, loud enough to make Miss Emma hear. “You can come too, if you want. I don't want you dead.”
With a loud sniffle, Miss Emma pulled her own hands away from her face. She looked at Beatrice in a kind of disbelief.
“I don't care about your mom and dad, though,” Beatrice added.
As she had so often before, before Tam was bought and Beatrice was assigned to kitchen work, Miss Emma dived forward and buried her face in Beatrice's shoulder and cried hard: her hands gripped each other behind Beatrice's back. Beatrice stood there, feeling awkward, horribly conscious everyone in the room was looking at them, and especially Tam.
After a moment, Tam got to her feet. She was looking at Beatrice. She was still holding the gun. She said to Miss Stephanie, “I suppose you can come as well.” Her gaze held Beatrice's, over Miss Emma's head, and she almost smiled: brief and crooked, but happy. “Where's the key? I want to take your collar off.”
“I do too,” Beatrice said. She handed Tam the key, and patted Miss Emma's shoulder. It didn't seem that Tam was going to mind.
Richard was looking at them, one hand rubbing along the red line where his collar had been. As the collar came loose from her throat, he said, much more quietly, almost calmly, “I can take the Commerce chip out. From both of you. If you want. I used to be a surgeon, and there's a kind of clinic upstairs.”
To Part 3